The Bangor City Council will hold a public hearing later this month about state plans to build a new psychiatric facility in the city. Gathering public input is important, of course, but discussion of a new treatment center must focus first on what is best for the patients in the state’s care.
That discussion has been sorely lacking in this debacle. In fact, the only reason the LePage administration is moving ahead with plans to build the facility in Bangor is because the governor has refused to answer even basic questions from lawmakers about the new center. Logically, the new facility should be in Augusta, home to the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center. Building it there would require that LePage and the Department of Health Human Services get legislative approval for their plans.
Rather than work in this logically coordinated way, LePage is moving ahead with plans to build in Bangor, putting the city in an unnecessarily adversarial position, as it now seeks answers to the same questions.
The Legislature’s Health and Human Services has repeatedly sent questions to LePage and DHHS. They have not received complete answers.
“LePage ducked and weaved all of our questions,” Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, House chair of the committee, told the BDN on Friday. “What is he hiding?”
He may be hiding nothing, but by refusing to answer even basic questions — such as who will run the facility, why it needs to built in Bangor, how it will be funded and whether it will be run like a corrections, rather than treatment, facility — the governor and DHHS have created suspicion and concern.
When Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow asked LePage to meet with her to discuss the new facility, he said no such meeting was necessary because all the information was on the state’s websites, she said. This is utterly false.
A request for proposals to operate the new facility, which is posted to a state website, details what the structure is and what its management requirements are. The 21-bed facility will house forensic patients, the legal name for those who are found not criminally responsible for a crime, who are slated to be released from Riverview or the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor. In other words, they do not need the fully restrictive setting in those facilities but are not yet ready to be released from state custody. The RFP also includes staffing and reporting requirements. Proposals are due Sept. 13.
Yet, none of this answers why a brand new facility is needed, why it should be constructed in Bangor rather than co-located with Riverview where these patients are now held, or how it will be paid for. Nor, does it clarify why a private entity, rather than the state, should operate the facility or how it will be managed to ensure patient care meets state and federal standards and court-imposed requirements.
Most important, neither LePage nor DHHS have said why they formulated the RFP and other plans with minimal input from lawmakers, patients and their families, advocates, community leaders, law enforcement or the many others involved in the care of the people who will be impacted. Such a collaborative approach could have led to a better facility that was focused on patient needs.
This has, unnecessarily put Bangor on the defensive. As a result, the city is looking at legal options to temporarily stop the project until questions get answered. If the LePage administration expects Bangor to host this new facility, it owes the city the courtesy of treating it as a partner, not an adversary.